Late 19thC Infantry Attack

by Fred Ray on September 26, 2010 · 0 comments

I came across this illustration of an infantry attack in the late 19th Century, specifically in 1892 at the famous British Army School of Musketry at Hythe. Established early in the century the school served to “train the trainers” of the army in rifle shooting, and you can see from the inset the various types of units represented, from Highlanders to Indian Army soldiers. This is the clearest example I’ve seen of an attack in the “open order” adopted in the late 19th Century. The two rank line of battle has been replaced with three loose skirmish lines supporting each other. On the left you can still the reserve line, which is standing, formed in two ranks, and accompanied by a mounted officer—who would have made a great target for someone on the hill armed with something like a Mauser. This was a time of transition, which would go on until the middle of WWI, from the close-packed line of battle to the looser open order of the Twentieth Century. The men here are, if you look closely, armed with Martini-Henrys, so we’re still in the black powder era, but in a panel I didn’t show is a wild card that will soon change everything—the Maxim gun.

Had you watched an attack by Rodes’ division sharpshooters in 1864 or Sherman’s skirmishers in front of Atlanta you’d have seen much the same thing. This is an area in which I disagree with Griffith, Hess, et. al. The Open Order had been known and used for quite some time, but finally the range and lethality of new weapons made its use mandatory.

In use the Open Order generally followed the tactics used for the skirmish line. There was the skirmish line, which had a support behind it in about equal strength, with a reserve behind that. This evolved into the three line open formations of the late century.

This image is one that I got from an outfit in the UK, www.old-print.com. They have a huge stash of original Victorian-era images from newspapers, periodicals, and the like. These are all originals, not reproductions. I’ve ordered several things from them, including the one above, with good results.


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